He told guests attending the June 26 opening of the $11 million plant that news, in March 2010, of Government money available for dairy innovation had given the idea focus, but much hard work remained to realise their vision of a spray dryer.
“It was up to us to rally the commercial sector to demonstrate its commitment to this Waikato facility before those funds could be confirmed,” Spaans says.
One year later Innovation Waikato chief executive Derek Fairweather and colleagues learned that the Dairy Goat Co-op would be the first major commercial customer for the plant. This was critical in creating a commercial case, gaining commitment for Government funding and approval to build the plant as a ‘private-public partnership,’ Spaans says.
Dairy Goat Co-op will use the plant 140 days per year as extra capacity to meet their expansion requirements. About eight co-op staff will work on site.
Spaans says the dryer, named NZ Food Innovation Waikato, is the only independent development spray dryer in New Zealand. It allows research, develop and manufacture of new dairy products, specifically milk powders. The dairy industry generates about 27% of Waikato’s GDP, Spaans notes.
“We believe this dryer facility is one key mechanism that can help our world-leading dairy industry to focus even further on value-added production.”
And the long-term prospects are exciting. “We’ve built this plant with the potential to... manufacture infant formula and even fruit and vegetable juice powders.
“We’ve already had a lot of interest from infant formula manufacturers, as well as fruit and vegetable powder distributors.... We are highly optimistic about the future.”
Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce opened the spray dryer, completed late in April after eight months work.
“We believe this is the fastest build of its type in the world,” says plant manager, Dave Shute.
Commissioning and testing took one month and the first fresh milk was converted to powder on May 25, all a smooth process, Shute says.
“I’ve been working in dairy factories for 20 years and I can say we’ve probably had the smoothest commissioning process of any factory in New Zealand. Of course, our small size had a bit to do with this.
“We will spend the next month ironing out any small glitches we’ve found and we’ll be ready to start processing our first product this month.”